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NASA and SpaceX Ready for Crew-8

L-R: Grebenkin, Epps, Dominick and Barratt pose for pictures upon their arrival at Kennedy Space Center.
Credit: Brandon Berkoff

NASA’s next crew to depart for the International Space Station, Crew-8, are nearly ready for launch, set to embark on a voyage of scientific discovery onboard the orbiting laboratory for the benefit of all on Earth. Made up of a diverse, multinational crew –  the astronauts and cosmonauts onboard Expedition 70/71 will oversee several key milestones in ISS development during their 6 month stay onboard the ISS, including key upgrades, certification flights of new crew and cargo spacecraft, and testing new technologies that will power the Artemis program back to the moon and beyond. 

Crew-8 poses in front of their Gulfstream jet after arriving from Johnson Space Center.
Credit: David Diebold

The joint SpaceX-NASA Crew-8 mission will be commanded by Matthew Dominick, a first time space flier. Dominick was selected by NASA to join the 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class. He reported for duty in August 2017. The Colorado native earned a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of San Diego and a Master of Science degree in Systems Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School. He graduated from U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. He has more than 1,600 hours of flight time in 28 aircraft, 400 carrier-arrested landings, and 61 combat missions – holding the rank of Commander in the United States Navy.

Piloting Crew Dragon Endeavour will be veteran astronaut Dr. Michael R. Barratt. Dr. Barratt was selected by NASA in 2000. Board certified in Internal and Aerospace Medicine, he has participated in two spaceflights, during one of which he performed a long duration stay on the ISS. In 2009, Dr. Barratt served as Flight Engineer for Expedition 19/20. This marked the transition from three to six permanent International Space Station crew members. During this time, he performed two spacewalks. He also flew on STS-133, which delivered the Permanent Multipurpose Module and fourth Express Logistics Carrier. Dr. Barratt serves in the Mission Support branches providing medical and human factors expertise to multiple spaceflight programs. He has spent a total of 212 days in space across two spaceflights. 

Acting as Mission Specialist 1 for Crew-8 will be Dr. Jeanette J. Epps of Syracuse, New York. Dr. Epps was selected by NASA in 2009 as an astronaut. She completed astronaut candidate training which included scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction in International Space Station systems, spacewalk training, robotics, T-38 flight training and wilderness survival training. During her graduate program, she was a NASA Fellow, and authored several pieces related to her study of Aerospace Engineering. Dr. Epps worked for Ford Motor Company where she received both a provisional patent and a U.S. patent for her research. After leaving Ford, she joined the Central Intelligence Agency for seven years working as a Technical Intelligence Officer before becoming an astronaut. She served in the ISS Operations Branch working issues in support of space station crews. 

Mission Specialist 2 for Crew-8 is Alexander Grebenkin of Roscosmos. Following an agreement with ISS partners, NASA and Roscsomos have swapped seats on their respective crew vehicles, allowing for access to the station in the event that one is grounded. Grebenkin was selected in the class of 2018 group of Russian cosmonauts. On November 24, 2020, he passed his required state exams following the completion of the general space training course. On December 2, 2020, he was awarded the qualification of a test cosmonaut. On March 1, 2023, he was selected as a backup for cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov on the flight of the Crew-7 mission before being moved to the prime spot for Crew-8. 

Crew Dragon Endeavour stands at Launch Complex 39A, ready to support the Crew-8 mission.
Credit: SpaceX

The launch date for the mission has been somewhat in flux until recently, with Intuitive Machine’s IM-1 requiring the facilities at Launch Pad 39A for fueling ahead of its historic moon landing. It was only after a reshuffle following the launch of Odysseus that the date could be confirmed, clearing the way for operations to proceed. Commander Dominick remarked at the Crew-8 Welcome Ceremony on February 25th that their launch had not been delayed by a rocket problem, but by waiting for their turn on the launch pad. This marks a significant shift in operations as both Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station enter what is set to be one of the busiest years on record.

Crew-8’s complement will join the tail end of Expedition 70, the 70th long duration expedition to the ISS in its 26 year history. The expedition has seen short duration visits, in the form of the third mission from Axiom Space, as well as a nearly year long stay from Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub – with the former set to accumulate over a thousand days in space by the time of his return later this spring. Following the arrival of Crew-8, the complement of Crew-7 will return to Earth carrying Jasmin Mohgbeli, Andreas Mogensen, Satoshi Furukawa and Konstantin Borisov, ending their six month stay on the ISS. The handover period to Expedition 71 will begin when Soyuz MS-25 arrives at the station, carrying NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson. Also onboard will be Oleg Novitsky and Marina Vasilevskaya, a Russian cosmonaut and Belarusian spaceflight participant, who will be participating in a short stay rotation. They will return to Earth after 12 days, rotating home with NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara. This will mark the official start of Expedition 71.

A flurry of activity is scheduled for Expedition 71, including yet another short stay crew joining the Station’s complement – this time during Boeing’s Starliner Crewed Flight Test. Long delayed, this mission is the third in a verification campaign to ready the vehicle for flight. The mission, flown by NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Barry Wilmore, aims to demonstrate human-in-loop systems for the spacecraft. If no significant issues are discovered during this mission, then Starliner will be cleared to begin rotating crews to the International Space Station starting as soon as USCV-10, the tenth rotation slot under the Commercial Crew Program in 2025. This vital dissimilar redundancy will also alleviate stress on the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, which has so far flown all of the US crew missions since the retirement of Shuttle. 

Starliner approaches the ISS during OFT-2, the second demonstration mission of the system.
Credit: NASA

Another new vehicle is set to join the fleet of spacecraft servicing the International Space Station during Expedition 71, Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser. The mission, known as Demo-1, will see Dream Chaser Tenacity launch atop a Vulcan VC4 rocket before rendezvousing with the ISS. There, it will be captured by the Station’s robotic arm, known as Canadarm2, and berthed to the Harmony node where its cargo will be unloaded. This demonstration flight, like Boeing’s CFT, aims to verify the spacecraft for operations on and around the space station, enabling greater volumes of cargo to be delivered to and from the orbital outpost. Following a roughly 80 day on station, the spacecraft will return to Earth, landing on a runway like an aircraft. This flight also aims to complete the final of two verification flights for Vulcan before the vehicle can begin national security flights.

The International Space Station is a constantly evolving landscape of human and technological research, and the multinational crews that serve onboard represent the far reaching agreements that helped to establish it. Crew-8 is no exception to this, representing some of NASA’s best and brightest, ushering in an era of change as the United States and her partners prepare to go beyond.

Edited by Scarlet Dominik

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